Modern SUVs may not be able to get seriously far off road, but they do at least behave more like traditional cars to drive. Given the sort of ‘off-roading’ most buyers will be doing amounts to popping up the kerb outside Starbucks, that’s just fine.
In contrast, the Wrangler feels like it could take you to the rainforest source of Starbucks’ coffee beans. However, this off-road prowess comes at the expense of its overall driving experience. We’ve tried the 2.8 diesel, which feels fairly lively in town and on the motorway, but is largely hampered by Jeep’s standard six-speed automatic gearbox. It’s sluggish to flick down when accelerating hard and sometimes hunts for the best gear when cruising.
Then there’s the handling, which is a long way behind rival efforts. The steering is extremely low and heavy, so it takes a lot of concentration to drive the Wrangler quickly along a country road. That, combined with lots of body lean and a very unsettled ride, means there’s very little pleasure to be had pushing the car hard.
Indeed, whatever your speed, the Wrangler picks up and is unsettled by even minor road imperfections, and there’s a considerable amount of tyre and diesel engine noise inside when above 30mph. We have yet to try the V6 petrol but we suspect it might be a tad less vocal and transmit less vibration through the controls.
Of course, head off road and the Wrangler comes into its own. All models get a lofty ride height, switchable all-wheel drive and a low-ratio gearbox for easier navigation of tricky terrain. Go for the more expensive Rubicon trim and you also get a locking differential to ensure even better traction on the roughest back roads as well as more vertical wheel movement.
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